U.S. Census Bureau's Hated American FactFinder Tool Cost $33.3 Million to Build

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A bargain by any standard. ... Kidding!

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Just over five months ago, William M. Hartnett filed a Freedom of Information Act request using the website MuckRock, which aims to make filing such requests easy for the non-lawyer population in our midst. He wanted to know: How much did the government spend -- and to whom did the money go -- building the American FactFinder tool on the U.S. Census Bureau's website, which, by the way, only works with Mozilla Firefox 3.6 and Internet Explorer 7, and even then is pretty unfriendly? He then "instantly forgot about the whole thing" and let MuckRock do the work.

Well today he decided to check in on his MuckRock account and, lo and behold, the Census Bureau had responded to his request, a mere three weeks after filing. The answer to Mr. Hartnett's question? $33.3 million, which went to IBM. Or, as Mr. Hartnett puts it, "Did you catch the part where it said the Census Bureau paid IBM $33.3 million for the poo bucket that is the American FactFinder? Ha ha. That was my favorite part, too."

Here's the letter responding to the FOIA request:

This is just one more reason to hope that the days of the American FactFinder are numbered. And they probably are: The Census Bureau recently released its first-ever API, and the apps developers could build with it will surely beat that of IBM's in terms of costs, and, in all likelihood, quality too.

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Rebecca J. Rosen is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she oversees the Business Channel. She was previously an associate editor at The Wilson Quarterly.

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